What’s a Fractional CMO, and When Should You Hire One?

By Kathryn Hawkins. Agency Process Content Marketing Startups Fractional CMO
   Credit:  Fauxels  License: Pexels

Hiring a fractional CMO or marketing consultant can be a great solution for times when you're not ready to hire a senior-level marketing employee. Here are some ways to work with a fractional CMO and when it makes sense for a business.

When you’re seeking resources to help you grow your business, expertise is far more important than the number of services your partner offers, or how quickly they can deliver those services.

Especially now, in the dawn of AI-powered content that’s half-way readable (if not compelling), it’s crucial for businesses to focus on finding partners that can support them not just with content development, but can help them shape a marketing strategy to grow a successful business.

Adding fractional CMO services to our marketing agency

At Eucalypt, we’ve made a few pivots over the years. We started off as a do-it-all marketing agency — offering web design, graphic design, copywriting, photography, even digitizing photos.

We quickly realized that it would be important to hone our focus and specialize in one area, where clients could seek us out — and that’s exactly what we did. Transitioning from our original name, Hawkins Multimedia, to Eucalypt, we grew to become a widely recognized content marketing agency, making the annual Clutch list of global leaders in content marketing eight times.

We brought on more than a dozen staff members over the years, and learned how to manage an internal team as well as partnering with external marketing resources to build great collaborative efforts. Working with dozens of scrappy tech startups, as well as enterprise companies including LinkedIn, Atlassian, Cray, and Kraft, we developed the right structure to support every kind of marketing team with their goals, whether they totaled one or two people, or dozens.

Now, we’re pivoting again. My former agency partner Jeff has transitioned into a full-time role as Digital Content Manager on the marketing team of the nonprofit financial institution, VyStar — and I’m remaining at the helm at Eucalypt, where I’m both continuing to lead and engage teams on larger marketing retainer projects, and to serve as a fractional CMO or marketing consultant for clients who prefer to work with me on a more strategic level.

What is a fractional CMO?

A fractional CMO is a highly experienced marketing consultant who can serve in your chief marketing officer role before you are ready to hire someone in-house, or during an interim transition.

Typically, your fractional CMO will serve as a part-time or project-based consultant, offering expertise around business objectives, marketing strategy and tactics, creative direction, customer segmentation and targeting, budgeting, technology implementation/management, and team building.

Fractional CMOs tend to have decades of experience at their disposal ranging from traditional advertising to digital content strategy. They bring with them the experience of having worked with diverse industries, markets, and customer types. Their strategic insights coupled with their ability to navigate complex business landscapes can provide you with valuable knowledge and direction on where your marketing efforts should go.

When might you need a fractional CMO?

Most companies won’t want to keep a fractional CMO indefinitely, though they may continue to work with this person as an ongoing marketing consultant in a more specialized role. Times when it may be helpful to bring on a fractional CMO include:

During your launch phase

You’ve recently launched a startup with a small team, heavily focusing on engineering skills. Your founder may be playing a dual role of focusing on marketing and sales, which will quickly become unsustainable amid the additional pressure of continued fundraising, team building, and product development. But you’re not at the right point financially to bring on a best-in-class CMO and offer them a salary + benefits package they’d jump at.

A fractional CMO provides a happy medium in this situation — for a pre-set consulting budget and number of hours per month, your fractional CMO can work with your team to build and prioritize your marketing strategy as you begin to build your marketing team, offering expertise to help guide your less experienced employees.

Your fractional CMO can help you build out foundational resources, such as messaging documents, persona guides, SEO keywords, and content templates, as well as help you evaluate which types of digital marketing spend will provide the best ROI, and which skill sets are most crucial to your marketing team. Your fractional CMO may even be involved in writing job listings and org charts, and helping you with your recruiting efforts as you grow your team.

During a transitory phase

If you’re a more established business that already has an in-house marketing team, how effectively are you meeting your goals? If you find that your business is consistently falling short, it may be a great time to bring in a marketing consultant to audit your efforts and help you overhaul your strategy. In this case, your fractional CMO may work collaboratively with your chief marketing officer and the marketing department as a whole — and while you aren’t required to follow all of their recommendations, make sure that you consider each of them with an open mind. 

Bringing in an outside set of eyes — particularly someone who’s worked with hundreds of clients across different industries through an agency — can help your business gain new perspectives on how to solve the problems you’re facing, and enable you to optimize processes to save costs.

What does the process look like?

With the right fractional CMO, results can come quickly. Depending on the size of your team and the complexity of your marketing needs, you may be able to get started with a fractional CMO in as little as two weeks. When selecting a marketing consultant, make sure to find someone who understands your business’s unique goals and challenges. Talk through your company and its challenges in a one-on-one conversation prior to engaging on a contract — it’s important to make sure that the project is the right fit for both sides, and that your consultant has the relevant experience to help your business improve its marketing strategy. Obviously, not all fractional CMOs have the same exact focus, and they may specialize heavily in one niche, and suggest referral partners to take on some of the supplemental work around your project.

Having an outside set of eyes can be invaluable for companies that are just getting started and aren’t sure what direction to take. A marketing consultant can review your business plan, explore different revenue models, and identify areas where additional investment could increase profits or reduce costs. By partnering with a consultant, you’ll gain access to their extensive marketing expertise and network of partners for high-quality marketing services, so that you’ll be able to ramp up quickly with affordable third-party services, rather than funneling everything through a large marketing agency that takes its own markup on all services.

For companies in a transition phase, you’ll generally have a much clearer sense of where you’re falling short, and can engage your marketing consultant to focus heavily on one or two key areas of your marketing strategy — or, if you’re ready to burn the house down, you can ask them to build you a new marketing strategy from scratch, taking note of all of the technical and resource requirements that you already have. Your fractional CMO can lay out a marketing strategy game plan with a set of metrics to measure over the coming months, to ensure that you’re seeing progress and optimize for success.

What’s the difference between a marketing agency and a marketing consultant?

Unlike working with a typical marketing agency, engaging a fractional CMO or marketing consultant is a highly collaborative process. As a boutique marketing agency, Eucalypt has always blurred the lines and acted more as an extension of our client’s team than as a standalone agency with rigid processes — but when I work as a fractional CMO or marketing consultant, I embed fully into the team’s processes and workflows.

When fractional CMO consulting clients want to review marketing strategy or go over new initiatives, they’ll always know that they’ll be talking with me directly and getting the benefit of my 20+ years of marketing industry experience.

That’s also the case for Eucalypt as an agency, but many marketing agencies will put junior staffers with limited experience on their client projects — which can leave a lot of clients with a bad taste in their mouths when it comes to working with marketing agencies in general.

Another key difference? Bandwidth.

As a marketing agency, we’ve scaled to take on large-scale projects, delivering hundreds of articles to clients over the course of a month. And while I’m very proud of this work, I’ve realized the joy of my role doesn’t lie in managing people, but in collaborating with partners — helping our clients uncover new ways of analyzing a problem, and coming up with a solution to fix it, whether it’s building a comprehensive marketing strategy or crafting a compelling white paper that solves a business problem.

So, while I’m continuing to manage a great team through Eucalypt as a marketing agency, I’m turning more of my focus towards playing a bigger role as a fractional CMO or marketing consultant — offering the value that only an experienced marketing professional can bring to a team. I can offer a range of strategic marketing services to fill needs in your team, whether on an interim or ongoing basis.

Some of my primary focus areas include:

Startup marketing strategy for B2B businesses

I work with startup B2B businesses to help them build out messaging documents, buyer personas, a social media plan, a PR strategy, content marketing templates and calendars, trade show recommendations, an SEO strategy, a digital marketing strategy, and more. Depending on your in-house resources, I can either collaborate with your team to help you execute on the strategy, or bring in outside expertise from my team at Eucalypt and trusted partners we work with regularly.

Content marketing in the age of AI: Building your tech stack

As managing director of a globally ranked content marketing agency, I regularly review and test out marketing solutions to learn how each of them can enhance our clients’ strategies, and have consulted with a wide variety of martech companies over the years. I’ll work with you and your team to help you evaluate different solutions for A/B testing, landing page building, SEO optimization, AI writing tools, and more — taking a vendor-agnostic approach focused on developing the best possible output while optimizing your budget.

Marketing department resource planning and budgeting

If you haven’t built a marketing team yet, but aren’t ready to bring on a full-time CMO, it can be challenging to find someone with the skills and connections to bring in the right people to meet your business needs. As a fractional CMO, I can help you build a marketing org chart, identify key skills that you’ll need to execute your goals, create job descriptions, and participate in the interview process to help you find your first important marketing hires, and/or support you in building a network of freelance marketing expertise and creating defined processes that will ensure smooth workflows in either case.

Want to see if my fractional CMO services and/or Eucalypt’s agency services are the right fit for your brand? Set up a free initial consultation with me.

Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins is principal and chief content strategist of Eucalypt Media. She has worked as a freelance journalist for media publications and managed inbound marketing and content strategy for corporate and nonprofit clients for more than 16 years.

Latest from the Blog

Browse by Category

Receive monthly tips on content marketing, social media marketing and how to improve your company’s web presence. No spam. Ever.